Teaching Science in the Two-Year College: An NSTA Press Journals Collection

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Introductory reviews include those by Gardnier , Handelsman et al. Springer et al. To increase learning and lower student resistance to change, it is best to start with carefully tested methods for interactive engagement. Fortunately, guides are widely available, both to interactive engagement in general Table 1 and with particular reference to science Cooper and Robinson , ; Committee on undergraduate education ; Michael and Modell ; Herreid ; Donovan and Bransford Project Kaleidoscope provides an online introduction to several of the most powerful pedagogies as applied to science.

Part II of Table 1 lists some more exemplary printed and on-line resources for increasing the extent and effectiveness of active learning in any college or university science course. The fundamental justifications given for requiring nonmajors and majors to take science courses typically include the importance of understanding science as a mode of knowing or reasoning.

However, scientists often find covering the content to be so fascinating and important that little serious consideration is given to scientific reasoning and the nature of science. I personally found limiting content to be so difficult that I later argued that this is the most difficult step in becoming a good teacher Nelson A study of students in multiple institutions Seymour and Hewitt found that introductory major courses in science were regarded as too content crammed and of limited utility both by students who continued to major in science and by equally talented students who initially had planned to major in science but later changed their minds.

I certainly thought so for some years. Sinatra et al. Resources now available make it easier to find what is already known about learning in science courses and to design assessments to see how well one's students are doing Table 2. One broadly important kind of problem, beyond those addressed by Sinatra et al. Arons explained the problems that students have with ratios and illustrated the pedagogical interventions required to deal with these problems in any quantitative discipline.

Herron , did the same with special reference to chemistry. An example from genetics is the use of Punnett squares to help students understand the biology and resulting quantitative aspects of Mendelian recombination. In teaching evolution, I found these problems especially pertinent in addressing population genetics and experimental design and analysis generally. It was very helpful to try to fit both genetic analyses and experimental-design analyses into matrices analogous to Punnett squares and to use even more student-to-student discussion.

Many students arrive at colleges or universities with the expectation that knowledge in at least some areas, usually including science, is unquestionable truth passed on by authority. As students come to see that apparently valid authorities can disagree on the answers as on creation and evolution they conclude that any choices among answers are arbitrary and based on how one feels about the answers or about the authorities.

The students do not expect to consider evidence and have no well-developed ways to rationally evaluate the comparative validity of alternative hypotheses. Two key pedagogical tasks become clear. First, for each topic we must help the students understand how there are or were apparently reasonable alternative hypotheses.

Second, we must help them use appropriate criteria to decide which of the alternatives are stronger and which are weaker. Without a clear comparison and a set of criteria, little critical thinking can occur and the nature of science remains buried in content to be memorized. These ideas were initially developed to explain learning difficulties experienced by Harvard students Perry They have since been confirmed in many other educational contexts Bleneky et al. Applications were developed especially well by Bleneky et al.

Discipline-specific examples are available for chemistry Finster , ; Zielinski and biology Baxter Magolda Nelson , , has provided a guide to classroom applications generally and specific applications to teaching evolution. The online, searchable bibliography includes 67 papers on evolution among on biology in post-secondary education and includes many more on high-school biology, many of which are relevant at the post-secondary freshman level or beyond. Effective approaches to helping students alter inadequate models first help students to see the limitations of their initial conceptions and then help them construct more scientifically valid understandings Duit and Treagust It is difficult, on a variety of grounds, for many scientists as it was for me to decide to include non-scientific views in their classes as it might seem to be a waste of time when there is a surfeit of good science to teach.

This resistance to teaching against the reasons for rejecting evolution may be changing. It is through the careful analysis of why intelligent design is not science that students can perhaps best come to appreciate the nature of science itself. Verhey a , b ; this symposium had students read and discuss popular books supporting evolution and intelligent design. Students in other sections read and discussed only readings supporting evolution. Similarly, instruction that broadly and interactively compared creationist ideas with standard science produced increased acceptance of evolution, especially by students who were initially undecided Ingram and Nelson Rather, the focus must be on comparing the alternatives using appropriate scientific criteria.

This was the approach applied by Verhey and advocated by Alberts. Other beneficial consequences may flow from this strategy. In summary, three strategies that can make a large difference in understanding and accepting evolution are extensive use of interactive engagement, a focus on scientific and general critical thinking especially on comparisons and explicit criteria and using both of these in advancing the third major strategy: helping the students actively compare their initial conceptions and publicly popular misconceptions with more fully scientific conceptions.

The most effective approaches combine all three. The following examples illustrate how these can be applied in teaching evolution. The precise examples are drawn from my senior course on evolution for biology majors, but I have used quite similar exercises with freshmen nonmajors. I am providing a few lightly modified excerpts from actual class materials in order to make the applications clear and thus facilitate their use by other faculty.

These excerpts are given in italics. One key pedagogical task is the development of criteria for comparing alternative hypotheses. Radioactive dating was a new line of evidence that could have supported any age for geological formations—from too young to date to many billions of years. It was thus a fair test of young earth versus old earth hypotheses. I developed several criteria while teaching age and macroevolution and then reused them where appropriate on other topics. As listed for the students these were: A scientific theory is better science than the alternatives to which it has been compared : 1 If it better matches the data from one fair test.

We reject creationist ideas generally not because the hypotheses originated in religion but because they either fail several fair tests or remain ad hoc or untestable. The same criteria were used repeatedly for different topics and for comparing popular misconceptions with scientifically appropriate ideas. The study guide for the second exam asked students to review key applications and to discuss the criteria across topics: Define each of the following criteria [the seven just listed] and explain what it is used for. Show how each criterion applies to an important example for each of five major topics in the course.

Explicit questions on the study guide, some of which are used with little or no modification on the exam, allow the students to study in small groups outside of class. It thus facilitates teacher-structured, student-executed informal interactive engagement Nelson Before the exam, students were also asked to prepare a multi-page worksheet that asked them to apply each criterion outside of science: Examples can be from any non-scientific area including incidents that might causes jealousy, sports, consumer goods, mechanics, business decisions, crimes, mystery novels, or issues for parents.

Criteria for better answers are : 1 The examples accurately illustrate the criteria. The specific questions varied by topic. One example will suffice. Explain the two criteria : Fair tests and multiple independent tests. State what basic task each criterion could be used for outside of science. State a specific non-scientific question to which these two criteria could be applied. Explain at least two alternative possible answers to the question.

Explain at least two potential fair tests and indicate which conclusion would be supported by what results from each. Discussion of these worksheets in groups of about six students required, with some whole class debriefing, an entire class period. Although I was initially reluctant to devote this much time to non-scientific applications, I was driven to it by persistent failures by many students to really understand the applications in science. From noticeably improved exam grades on questions applying criteria in science, it was clear that the exercise had helped.

The key point is not that all faculties should use these particular criteria. Rather, my suggestion is that one needs a set of criteria that one can use repeatedly to make a series of important comparisons within a course and, ideally, among courses. A careful approach to teaching experimental design and critique would serve many of the same purposes, especially if it focused on how one tells what issues the controls should address and whether they really achieved this.

Thus, a key point, often not emphasized in the way we present material, is that data can not really show that a hypothesis is true, only that it is better than a set of specified alternatives. This is the reason that the results of analyses are always tentative, at least in principle. An approach that asks what alternatives have been compared and what criteria have allowed us to choose among them keeps the emphasis on better hypotheses. It is important to frame this tentativeness carefully. A full understanding of the nature of science will highlight its tentativeness, its deep predictive and explanatory power and the way change usually builds upon and expands previous findings.

This means that the tentativeness is often replaced with much more firmly secured findings of the same general nature. We repeatedly, and almost dependably, move from good to better hypotheses. Is it also important to note that some areas we teach may not be easily understood by students at a particular level while others may be ideas we lack the time to teach as scientific reasoning. It is essential, however, that these be a small fraction of any course in which we want to foster deep understanding and critical thinking. Students in my courses tended to have almost no understanding of the extent and importance of the geological record in documenting evolution.

Instead, they thought of fossils as rare and more or less haphazardly distributed across the landscape, almost like meteorites. I found that the descriptions of some rich fossil sites in Gould were very useful in helping students form a more realistic view of the fossil record. I have not encountered any other overview of the fossil record that presented equally rich, short site descriptions.

I framed the task before I had the students read appropriate excerpts. One important thing that this book does is to allow us to compare the hypotheses that the sedimentary record of the earth was deposited a rather gradually over hundreds of millions of years versus b rapidly in layers one on top of the other during a one year-long global flood.

The central question is thus whether normal geology or flood geology better explains the features we find remember that explanation is the central task of science. Important sub-questions include: Are the kinds of organisms mixed up as they would be in a global flood or are the organisms those one would have expected to find living in a local area?

Are the deposits the kind that would be formed from suspension, mixing, and deposition during one year or are the deposits those that would be formed locally and, often, over a long period of time? How can we explain the presence or absence of major groups? Normal geology would often note that many of the differences were due to the fact that different organisms lived at different times—in many cases they either were already long extinct or had not evolved yet.

The students then read the descriptions of some deposits with these context-specific criteria in mind. They filled out worksheets and discussed them in class for four or more of the sites described in detail in Gould. One example will, again, suffice. The mid-Paleozoic, Orcadian basin deposits including the Old Red Sandstone beds of the Devonian of Scotland consist of vast, then-equatorial, lake sediments.

These deposits have yielded many kinds of early fishes. Why are the fishes so well preserved? Why do only a fraction of the layers contain abundant fishes? Why do so many layers contain fishes? How can we tell how often the fish-rich layers were deposited? Briefly summarize the diversity of vertebrate animals found in this deposit. How do we explain the diversity of or lack of teleosts, turtles, crocodiles, pterosaurs, dinosaurs, birds, mammals, and flowering plants in it? A study question for the final exam asked students to synthesize across deposits: Compare the hypotheses that the sedimentary record of the earth was deposited a rather gradually over hundreds of millions of years versus b rapidly in layers one on top of the other during a one year-long global flood.

Frame your answer in terms of the central scientific criterion of explaining features and differences. Include at least five of the following considerations in your discussion: a The span of time over which individual fossil beds were deposited, as indicated by the geological evidence , b The extent to which the associated sediments and the associated fossils make ecological sense , c The reasons the fossils in many sites are so well preserved , d The extent to which similar fossils are found together , e The differences among the kinds of fossils found in rather similar ecological conditions at different times, and f The extent to which the distribution of many deposits makes geographic and ecological sense when placed on a map of continental positions at the time, as reconstructed from paleomagnetic evidence.

For each of the five, explain how at least one rich fossil deposit illustrates your main points and for each of the five answers explain: Would this aspect of the record be easy or hard to explain with flood geology? How so? Again, I was initially reluctant to invest so much effort in paleontology while teaching a biology class. Note the use of teacher-structured interactive engagement, the use of context-specific criteria for critical thinking and the engagement with creationist ideas on topics that are quite important in understanding the strength of evolution.

Similar approaches were utilized whenever reasonable Flammer et al. For example, the evolution of eyes and of wings both were framed as persistent puzzles of the organs of extreme perfection kind. For such traits, it appears naively and intelligent design proponents claim that natural selection could not have formed them since intermediate steps would seem to be inviable or nonfunctional. The evolutionary origins of eyes and of wings have been greatly clarified by evolutionary developmental biology. The students also examined some other examples cited recently by proponents of intelligent design, together with their scientific explanations Behe , ; Miller , ; Matzke In the study guides for the final, I asked: Suppose you become a research biologist and you find a feature of some or all organisms that is so complex that its evolution by natural selection seems inconceivable to you, one where the intermediate incremental steps would appear to be nonfunctional.

What attitude are other scientists likely to take towards your findings? What attitude should they take? Again, giving the students the questions before the exam and encouraging them to work together fosters an informal form of interactive engagement. An important barrier to accepting evolution is the feeling that we did not evolve. Sometimes this flows from an almost visceral revulsion at the idea that we had ape-like ancestors, to say nothing of worm-like ones.

In other cases, it may follow from carefully articulated positions on issues such as the nature of the soul, the nature of God, and the extent of appropriate materialism. In either case it is important to use human evolution as an example whenever convenient Nelson and Nickels Close examination of a series of skull casts in small groups using a structured worksheet was the single most effective strategy we found for addressing the rejection Nelson and Nickels Another important exercise used data from a variety of primates, including humans, to go from molecular sequences to phylogenetic trees Nelson and Nickels This exercise included practice in seeing that rotations about nodes contained scientifically equivalent information, even though some rotations spuriously looked like a ladder leading to humans and others with the same exact content looked like a ladder leading to lemurs Nelson and Nickels Comparing phylogenies that had been developed on morphological and on molecular bases, or on other disparate bases, for the same or similar sets of species, is also core to understanding the synthetic and predictive power of Darwinian phylogenetic trees Nickels and Nelson Students often seemed to feel initially that there were only two alternatives: atheistic evolution or religious creationism.

I gradually found ways to help students transcend this false dichotomy. Most did not know of the broad theological consensus that acceptance of evolution is quite compatible with faith Matusmura ; Zimmerman I also noted the gradient between young-earth creation commonly advocated by fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims , progressive creation evangelicals and gradual creationism theistic evolution; mainline protestants, Roman Catholics, reformed Judaism, and progressive Islam.

A key aspect of higher-order critical thinking is an understanding that rational decisions take into account positive and negative consequences and tradeoffs as well probabilities. I used an example based on the risks from pulling the pin on a rusty hand grenade to emphasize the importance of consequences as well as probability in making rational decisions Nelson , Religion has provided many students with an understanding of negative consequences that might flow from accepting evolution that seem much greater than those that we fear from rusty grenades.

An introduction to alternative, but still deeply religious, theological frameworks may help students reframe the religious consequences Nelson , An emphasis on applied evolution helps students understand its massive practical benefits Mindell Carefully showing how many of the important applications depend on macroevolution helps challenge the idea that microevolution is all that really matters. I emphasize that I am not suggesting that a rationalist point of view is the only valid one. Indeed, many important decisions, including falling in love, are patently not rationalist, whether or not they are influenced by our evolutionary heritage Wilson Verhey a , b , and this symposium showed that we can foster such changes.

In his classes, many students who initially doubted evolution changed to an approach that combined science and religion in ways that closely parallel those of many clergy Zimmerman and the official positions of many denominations Matusumura Again: just as it can be rational to refuse to pull the pin on a rusty hand grenade when it appears the consequences will be inconvenient if the less probable hypothesis proves true, it can also be rational to reject any scientifically probable hypothesis when the consequences seem sufficiently bad.

Some of the questions on the study guide for the final examination focused on these ideas for evolution: Consider the array of Gradual Creation Theistic Evolution , Progressive Creation and Quick Young-Earth Creation as a spectrum. Using the rusty-hand-grenade example as a base, explain how and why the increased recognition of the practical benefits of evolution should tend to affect peoples beliefs on this spectrum.

Explain, in terms of the rusty hand grenade analysis i. Despite or, perhaps, because of my increasing use of nontraditional pedagogies, my course evaluations were usually high. In addition, I received several teaching awards. These included ones for which the department nominated me and others given by student groups with no faculty or administrative input.

When I started teaching evolution, I avoided any comment on religiously based ideas out of what I took to be respect for religion and from a feeling that there was just so much good science that I already could not cover for lack of time that it would be scientifically indefensible to spend time on such topics.

If everything in biology does indeed make sense only in the light of evolution, as Dobzhansky famously claimed, I asked myself, what could have really been accomplished in a biology course if students left it without understanding evolution and the powerful evidence on which it was based? Taking serious account of what is now known about teaching science effectively in college and university settings made a real understanding of evolution much more likely.

Doing so, while using evolution as a clear example of scientific excellence, presented science more effectively as a way of knowing and as a model of critical thinking. It also was perceived by the students and by me as being much more respectful of them and their initial ideas.

Many of these were initially developed in interaction with Martin Nickels and Jean Beard and the high school teachers who participated in our Evolution and the Nature of Science institutes. They have been further refined in continuing interactions with them and with Larry Flammer, Ella Ingram, and Brian Alters. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Sign In or Create an Account. Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Article Contents. Fundamental change 1: use structured active learning extensively. Fundamental change 2: focus on scientific and critical thinking.

Fundamental change 3: directly address misconceptions and student resistance. Application 1: criteria. Application 2: geological record.

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Science and Engineering Indicators. Arlington, Va. This statistic raises a series of questions, most of which do not have neat or even agreed-upon answers. How should science literacy be defined? What level of performance is considered adequate, and how is it justified? What is the functional utility of science literacy, and how is it evaluated? What is the trade-off between breadth and depth, either in terms of coverage of the science disciplines or topics within a discipline?

Are some facts or concepts so central that everyone should know them? In what follows, I avoid these questions. The lack of breadth in the science knowledge of scientists casts an interesting light on the definition of scientific literacy for non-scientists. In the NSF biennial surveys of the public understanding of and attitude toward science and technology NSB, , educational achievement and, in particular, the number of college science courses taken are the strongest redictors of civic scientific literacy Miller, The NSF findings invite consideration of whether existing science requirements in general education programs are providing the college-age population the societal benefits hoped for by educators and scientists.

About 10 percent of undergraduates in the. United States take a general education astronomy course during their undergraduate career [Fraknoi, ]. For twenty years I have conducted a continuing study of scientific literacy at the University of Arizona. Data for my study are just beginning to be published Impey et al.

The percentage of students who correctly answer each question increases with the number of science courses taken, although the improvement is greater and starts from a lower base with the astrology question. Most students who have taken four or more science courses are science majors. The distinction between pre- and post-general education requirement connotes students who have taken less than two and two or more science classes, respectively. Among majors in the colleges of science, engineering, social and behavioral sciences, and education, those students preparing to be teachers perform the poorest.

Source: Impey et al. A twenty year survey of science literacy among college undergraduates. Journal of College Science Teaching. Knowledge is one part of the terrain of science literacy; beliefs and attitudes are another. Students and people in general often hold mutually conflicting beliefs. As long as they are not faced with a situation where the tension must be resolved, there is no problem. In addition, 40 percent believe the positions of the planets affect everyday life, the same percentage think some people have psychic powers, one in six believes that aliens visited ancient civilizations, one in four thinks faith healing is a legitimate alternative to conventional medicine, and a quarter think that some numbers are lucky for some people whether the rest think that some numbers are unlucky is not clear.

Overall responses by nearly ten thousand undergraduates over twenty years to six statements about pseudoscience and nonscientific beliefs. These beliefs coexist with solid performance when answering the questions in the science knowledge portion of the survey. This unparalleled data set will be used for a comprehensive study of science knowledge and beliefs among undergraduates.

The modest gains in scientific literacy that seem to accrue from college science classes suggest our pedagogy has room for improvement. Moreover, undergraduate susceptibility to pseudoscientific beliefs leaves these young people open to charlatans and scams of many kinds. A general education course in skepticism would be a useful addition to the curriculum at my university and probably at many others. A review of the vast literature from neuroscientists and behavioral psychologists on how people learn is beyond the scope of this paper.

The science instructor can most usefully assimilate that information from a number of collections that take the research and apply it to the classroom. Ignorance is sometimes bliss, because knowing these findings raises the bar on how we teach. We must not only teach students facts but also provide multiple contexts for developing their understanding of those facts. The three principal conceptual frameworks for learning are behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Let us imagine or at least hope we have progressed beyond the radical behaviorism formulated by psychologist B.

Even though molding classroom behavior and meshing student effort with grading schemes involve more than a hint of operant conditioning, the classroom is much richer than a large Skinner box. Constructivism began with developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and has propelled many waves of education reform. Figure 7 shows how these three theories map onto pedagogy and instructional media.

The pedagogical principles implied by the three theories and the ways they apply to learning are shown in the top part of the diagram. Moving from left to right, each theory corresponds to a greater degree of autonomy and engagement of the learner and higher degrees of adaptability and flexibility for the instructor. Modern education theory strongly favors constructivist approaches. The principal theories of learning all make different assumptions about how the brain processes and retains information, and each posits a different role for the instructor.

Teaching technologies are available that map to each of the conceptual frameworks. Source: Figure created and provided by author. In practice, the first two stages are often merged. Cognition research may one day underpin our understanding of how people learn, with consequences for teaching strategies. But cognitive science is still a new academic field, with the first Ph. The last few decades have seen progress in neuroscience and computational theory, although some philosophers have questioned the supposition that human brains work solely by representation and computation.

One of the most mature theories, Adaptive Control of Thought-Rational ACT-R , is a symbolic framework that divides knowledge into declarative and procedural representations, which can be coded and implemented using a computer programming language LISP interpreter. The traditional large lecture class is poorly suited to the goals of the science course: to transfer long-term knowledge to students, convey a general sense of how science works, and influence their worldview. Some of the structural problems that inhibit the widespread adoption of good principles of teaching and learning are particular to the sciences.

Faculty in research-intensive units may experience a reward structure that favors research over teaching, or institutions may place little emphasis on mentoring for teaching. Faculty members in a small department are likely to have high teaching loads, increased contact hours, and slender financial support.

In most settings, few faculty members are up to date on best pedagogical practices. The graying professoriate has a growing disconnect with the technology and computer habits of its undergraduates. In most large lecture classes, professors have limited support one graduate teaching assistant for a class of one hundred or more is not uncommon and limited opportunity to break the class into small groups.

How do we engage students and encourage learning in these conditions? One can easily become discouraged, but renewed national attention to the problem is cause for optimism. Those recommendations propose that research universities:.

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Instructors can draw on many tried-and-tested tools and strategies, such as think-pair-share questions, lecture tutorials, polling about misconceptions, and peer-led debates Bain, ; Davis, Indeed, the lecture is social technology dating back to the Middle Ages, a time when electronic distractions did not exist see Figure 8.

On the other hand, people routinely watch a movie that lasts two hours or more while following the plot and with minimal lapses of attention, suggesting that a strong narrative, emotional engagement, and variation of sensory input are the keys to sustained attention. The level of attention and performance during any lecture shows an almost immediate decline, and at the end of a class period of normal length sixty minutes attention is down to a very low level left-hand graph. Interrupting the lecture for activities, quizzes, or asides helps right-hand graph , but engagement never returns to what it was at the start of the class.

Source: A schematic representation of the conclusions drawn by Johnson, A. Attention breaks in lectures. Education in Chemistry — If that is not convincing, then consider this striking example from physicist Carl Weiman of the University of British Columbia; he pioneered education reform while at the University of Colorado. In an introductory physics class for non-science majors, he gave a cogent mini-lecture on the physics of sound and then brandished a violin. He explained that the strings do not move enough air to create the sound from the violin. Rather, the strings cause the back of the violin to move via the sound post, and thus it is the back of the violin that actually produces the sound.

Fifteen minutes later he asked a multiple-choice question about where the sounds from a violin came from, and only 10 percent said the back; almost everyone else said the strings. This low level of retention of a counterintuitive fact after only fifteen minutes also applies to faculty and graduate students. Does this mean that all lecturing is bad? Most professors are familiar with the unspoken pact that can develop in the classroom. The professor agrees to deliver a highly structured presentation, not to ask students to think outside the box, and to evaluate them according to the material in the textbook with objective tests, usually multiple choice.

In return, the students agree not to be disruptive, to act as tidy receptacles for information, and to regurgitate that information when it is time for a test. All of this is implicit. As long as nobody questions the premise, and the grades connect to the content that is being taught, everyone is fairly happy. This description is a caricature, but not by much. Weiman and Perkins describe the failure of traditional methods of physics instruction, noting that:. The result is largely independent of lecturer quality, class size, or institution.

After instruction, students, on average, are found to be less expert-like in their thinking than before. They see physics as less connected to the real world, less interesting, and more as something to be memorized without understanding. Learner-centered techniques challenge faculty to relinquish some authority and control in the classroom. This disincentive underscores the imperative that both faculty and department heads be committed to the larger goal of improving learning.

Remember: the locus of learning depends on the educator but ultimately rests with the students and the work they do. Even when they are encountering a subject for the first time, students are not blank sheets of paper. Particularly in the sciences, students often hold strong misconceptions:.

Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp new concepts and information presented in the classroom, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.

Sometimes the dissonance is explicit. I have had students tell me they believe in astrology or a six-thousand-year-old Earth, give the answers I want to hear to do well on the quizzes, and no doubt continue with their prior beliefs after the close of the semester. Some of the most profound misconceptions relate to the way science works, and they affect learning in any discipline. Non-scientists tend not to have a deep understanding of the tentative nature of scientific theories and the important role of assumptions; nor are they fully aware of the limitations imposed by observational errors and finite data.

They tend to believe that scientific laws are perfect and absolute and that scientific calculations are error-free and precise. Their reaction if scientists disagree with one another is to question the validity of the entire enterprise. This system evolved to ensure not truth, logic, and reason, but survival. That superstition and irrationality abound in the Age of Science is not surprising. Preconceptions are not the same as misconceptions, though, and therein lies a complication. In each of these situations close means more, and that becomes a strongly held preconception about the way the world works.

But this knowledge may not be helpful in a quite different situation. Summer in the northern hemisphere is not hotter because Earth is closer to the sun see Figure 9 , and the brightest stars in the sky are not the hottest. Prior knowledge has to be addressed in teaching because that knowledge tethers to intuition or direct experience even when it is erroneous. In this example, students would have to get direct experience from hands-on activities relating to the amount of sunlight falling on a surface to be able to correct the misconception. Source: Novak, J. Figure courtesy of Alberto J.

Even with the temptations for instructors and students to buy into a teaching model based on passivity and regurgitation of information, an abundance of evidence indicates that traditional methods are not working. Students generally find traditional science courses to be boring, irrelevant, and incongruous with the stated goals Tobias, Research into learning and cognition confirms that knowledge is associative and thus linked to already-developed conceptions of how the world works, which may be naive and not based on scientific principles Gabel, Research also shows that learning is context dependent—what students learn depends on the educational setting—and that students require social interactions to learn deeply and effectively Clark, ; Lazarowitz et al.

Finally, the unavoidable truth is that constructive learning requires mental effort—proper pedagogy can be taxing for both faculty and students! Teaching may be considered in terms of a progression of four models of pedagogy see Figure At one extreme is the traditional behaviorist model whereby information flows solely from the instructor and the textbook. Next is the cognitive model, in which students are active participants, often self-directed, and the instructor acts more like a facilitator.

A classroom operating this way would have a lot of hands-on labs or experiments, group discussions, and peer instruction. Much of the time is devoted to problem solving. Such a course has structure, but students shape the small-scale learning environment. Moving from left to right, the models go from hierarchical to democratic.


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The nature and organization of course content mirrors the philosophy of the instruction. Effective teaching avoids pure transmission but can draw judiciously from all the silos. Peer-to-peer models do not remove the authority of the instructor but adapt the progress of the course according to student performance and feedback. Higher education has struggled mightily to move between the first and second models of learning; however, two other transitions can be contemplated. The third pedagogical model might be called an adaptive learning environment, whereby the tools of instruction and even the shape of the course are molded by students.

The content is made up of reusable learning objects that can be arranged in different sequences, in contrast to the linear flow of a textbook. A reusable learning object is a self-contained chunk of content that occupies two to fifteen minutes of class time, can be delivered in multiple learning contexts— including online—and is tagged with metadata so it can be found in an electronic search Northrup, This type of instruction is characterized by active exploration and cooperation, and its basis in learning theory is constructivism. A final step in this direction would be peer-to-peer learning, the extensive use of blogs and wikis, and the creation of learning materials by students working with one another under guidance.

The instructor becomes a coordinator and defines goals and standards in this approach. Good pedagogy is often a matter of common sense. I wish that when I was starting out as an assistant professor someone had shared the following with me:. One final tip will be familiar to any parent: avoid sending mixed messages. Professors are modeling professional behavior, and students cannot be expected to be punctual and organized if the professor is not.

Students notice when professors claim to be open to questions and discussion but do not allow long enough time for the former and structure class to make the latter difficult. Professors who glance at their watch during class might intend only to judge the timing of the class session so as to cover as much material as possible; students will see the glance as a sign of impatience or desire to be somewhere else.

Perhaps the most disastrous mixed message professors can send is to tell students we want them to understand general principles and how science works while testing them on facts and specifics. Evaluation and pedagogy must be carefully aligned. In contrast to traditional methods, active engagement and active learning approaches produce significant and long-lasting learning gains Bybee, ; Committee on Undergraduate Science Education, ; National Science Teachers Association, Active learning occurs when students have to take responsibility for their own learning by engaging in critical reasoning about the ideas presented in the class.

To engage students and facilitate critical thinking:. Presented with such a litany of recommendations, any scientist would be forgiven for demanding to be shown the data! Studies on teaching and learning in astronomy are inspired by the larger community of physics education. The online peer-reviewed journal Astronomy Education Review was started in and is currently supported and operated by the American Astronomical Society. A small but growing cadre of Ph. The Center for Astronomy Education drives much of this activity.

Gathering reliable data on the efficacy of the methods discussed above is not easy because of the necessity for pre- and post-testing and careful experimental design. Evaluation and assessment tools are also central to this research and are two topics that are beyond the scope of this review. These obstacles aside, lecture tutorials are one model that has proven to be highly effective in large astronomy classes of one hundred to three hundred students. Lecture tutorials are based on the topics that faculty cover most frequently and require fifteen-minute time chunks that can be easily inserted into a lecture.

Designed to elicit misconceptions or naive mental models, they are highly interactive forms of Socratic dialogue. When pre-testing on eight core topics is compared to testing after lecture and testing after lecture tutorials, the lecture tutorials show substantial gains that benefit all students equally see Figure Improvements over straight lectures are similarly large for lecture tutorials and ranking tasks Prather et al.

The use of ranking tasks or lecture tutorials in an introductory astronomy class produces gains over lecture, when each is measured with a pre-test and a post-test. Ranking tasks are conceptual exercises in which a student is presented with four to six physical situations, usually in graph or diagram form, and is asked to order them based on some resulting effect. The study found no significant gender effect. The lower graph shows that, for ranking tasks, students in the lowest pre-test group are elevated to the same level as the high pre-test group.

Source: Prather, E. Slater, J. Adams, and J. Research on a lecture-tutorial approach to teaching introductory astronomy for non-science majors. Astronomy Education Review 3 2 — Hudgins, D. Prather, D. Grayson, and D. Effectiveness of collaborative ranking tasks on student understanding of key astronomy concepts. Astronomy Education Review 5 1 :1— Graphs courtesy of Edward Prather. Support for the value of interactive instruction in astronomy is growing Prather et al. Pre- and post-testing were performed on nearly four thousand students taught by thirty-six instructors at thirty-one two-year and four-year institutions in the United States.

Normalized gain scores were measured after testing on the Light and Spectra Concept Inventory Bardar et al. Interactivity was measured by the amount of time each class spent outside lecture mode in group work, activities, labs, recitation sections, or one-on-one modes of engagement. Classes with more interaction showed larger gains see Figure The normalized gains were mostly between 0.

The wide range in gains suggests some dependence on instructor and institution. Rudolph, G. Brissenden, and W. A national study assessing the teaching and learning of introductory astronomy, Part I: The effect of interactive instruction. American Journal of Physics — Graph courtesy of Edward Prather. These materials are now readily available for astronomy teachers, often in conjunction with textbooks. One book of feedback questions and discussion prompts is intended for introductory astronomy courses Adams, Prather, and Slater, The same group has collected many strategies for teaching large astronomy classes Pompea, ; Slater and Adams, Ranking tasks and peer instruction methods have also been documented Green, Even if lectures remain the primary delivery vehicle, they can be easily adapted to include these techniques so that inquiry-based instruction can be introduced incrementally.

The advantages of any of these techniques are that student misconceptions are explicitly identified, the instructor is better paced, and students are more engaged with the class. For instance, an interactive demonstration could be preceded by a short quiz with clickers or note cards to identify the most common misconceptions about the topic. Alternately, the class could be asked to write on a card their expectations for an upcoming demonstration. The cards can then be passed around to mix them up, and sample responses can be read out before the demonstration begins.

Simple show-and-tell is highly effective if it makes students think more deeply about the material. In astronomy, an iron meteorite—an example of a messenger from trillions of miles away and billions of years ago whose material was ejected from a star before Earth was born—can be used to spark discussion. In biology, a package of dental floss in a plastic Easter egg can serve as a scale model of the nucleus of a eukaryotic cell and can be used to convey the vast information content of DNA.

Pass the egg around the class and unravel the floss: in this enlarged scale model, 5 kilometers of dental floss would equal the length of the unraveled DNA in the nucleus of a human cell. Even a simple think-pair-share question can facilitate deep learning if it is contained in a suitably structured activity. Students can easily show that plants are not made of the same chemicals as soil. But even after a mini-lecture on photosynthesis most students are not certain whether the correct answer is water or air, so the debate continues. After a proper accounting of transpiration, they can see that the answer is air, and knowing that the stuff of mighty redwoods is built using carbon snatched from thin air makes a deep and long-lasting impression.

Plato was right: the best form of instruction is the Socratic dialogue. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, only two real revolutions have occurred in the delivery of instruction. The first occurred in , at the time of the Apollo moon landings, when overhead projectors began to supplant the traditional blackboard.

The second began with the maturation of personal computing and the Internet in the mids and continues today with a bewildering array of multimedia tools and technologies. Higher education is riding this wave of exponential change. However, technology itself does not guarantee good instruction. Most professors are bewildered by the sea change in student habits away from email and TV to texting and online video, and by the wildfire spread of social phenomena like Facebook and Twitter. Many companies and individuals have developed resources that can help increase student engagement and learning.

Some are associated with prominent textbooks and thus are free to adopters of the books, while others are available on the Web.

Sarah Carrier

Activities linked to specific textbooks are often excellent because publishers, who see them as a way to gain comparative advantage in a competitive marketplace, make major investments in applets and interactive tutorials. Sophisticated Java applets for introductory physics and astronomy courses allow students to behave more or less like real scientists: taking realistic but synthetic data with plausible errors, varying the parameters, and fitting models.

Examples include detecting extrasolar planets with Doppler velocity data that include realistic noise and time sampling Greg Bothun, University of Oregon and modeling changes in chemical composition of planetary atmospheres and the effect of such changes on climate Dick McCray, University of Colorado. Greg Corder has studied the benefits of this technology for science learning. Existing ideas like concept maps make an excellent fit with computers, and vendors have started to produce software that lets students construct maps through a flexible interface.

These projects have obvious and still-untapped applications with college students. The first generation of digital instructional technology in the s and s was limited to fixed content and a linear flow of presentation and often failed to provide a rich learning experience.

Electronic textbooks are a good example of such shovelware. As the technology has advanced in the past decade, it is moving toward more customizable interfaces. New teaching techniques should be able to take advantage of these changes. Some instructors have experimented with wiki-type projects, and the increasing ubiquity of Web-capable cell phones and smartphones allows instructors to push both general and customized content to students.

Voice recognition and interpretation technology may soon permit students to interact with an artificial intelligence tutor and a database using text-to-speech software. Implementing collaborative or adaptive learning environments on computers and the Internet is challenging, but the technologies exist.

In a schematic view of this instructional environment see Figure 13 , the content would consist of reusable learning objects that are multimedia elements, such as hyperlinked text, interactive figures, video clips, and sound files. Their high-level organization would be shown by a concept map Novak, Online navigation is flexible and could be directed according to a map or a tree, by keyword search, or by recommendations from other learners examples are in the shaded box.

The navigation and the interface are adaptive to the preference of the individual student user and the patterns of past users. As shown on the left of the diagram, the instructors select content and modify their interface according to learning goals, while, as shown on the right, students interact with the content either individually or collaboratively with their peers. This is a schematic diagram of the components of a hypothetical adaptive learning system.

To the left, the instructor provides a high-level framework for use of the content according to specified learning goals. To the right, the student user customizes his interface by learning style text-heavy, visually rich, or audio. Some tasks are open to other learners, co-opting the architecture of social networks. Delivery would be wireless to laptops or handheld devices. This vision could be realized in the near future. Several transformational technologies will soon have tremendous influence on society and, inevitably, on the ways in which we teach.

They are so new that as yet there is no research literature with evaluations of them in an instructional setting, and their modes of most effective use are hard to predict. Alongside Wikipedia, the other omnipresent Internet appendage for students is Facebook. With more than four hundred million users, one hundred million of whom are in the United States, Facebook is the most popular social networking site in the world.

Nearly 90 percent of all undergraduates use Facebook, and most students check the site several times a day, suggesting it has their loyalty and rapt attention. A year ago, Facebook abandoned its support of internal features that allowed students to see all the people at their university taking the same courses as them. In principle, this opened the door for a developer to create collaborative learning tools and online learning communities, though it has not happened yet. Among more than one hundred thousand Facebook applications, only a few hundred are educational, and for the most part, the educational apps do not encourage deep learning.

Nonetheless, social networks are a frontier for education. Another exciting wave of the future is the use of virtual 3-D worlds such as Second Life as social learning spaces and places where instructors and students can co-create educational experiences Cheal, ; Kelton, With roughly fifteen million users, Second Life is the most popular of a set of realistic, graphically rendered virtual worlds where people move and talk and interact in the form of their electronic alter ego, or avatar.

Access and avatar creation are free, but owning virtual land costs real money. Second Life is a technical tour de force. A server farm with three hundred terabytes of storage capacity generates a world of islands and archipelagos that extends about eight hundred virtual square miles.

The programming is moving toward open standards, and its Havoc 4 physics engine creates realistic dynamics and visual effects. With education technology specialist Adrienne Gauthier as the lead developer, and using preceptors and other paid undergraduates as content creators, this island has been successfully used in general education classes for non-science majors. Substantial support is required to familiarize students with Second Life, but the reward has been some clever and creative projects, the best of which can become permanent exhibits on the island.

Conventional teaching is not well suited to a virtual world, but cooperative learning, model-building, and 3-D visualization of science concepts work well. Five years ago, nobody could have anticipated the explosive growth and varied uses of Second Life and Facebook. All that can be said for certain today is that the future of instructional technology will be exciting and difficult to predict Alexander, Educators should fasten their seat belts for a thrilling ride.

I am especially grateful to my University of Arizona colleagues Ed Prather and Gina Brissenden for teaching me various learner-centered techniques over the years and for doing the research that demonstrates the effectiveness of many of the pedagogical ideas explored in this paper. I also thank Adrienne Gauthier for many conversations about technology and instructional design, Sanlyn Buxner and Jessie Antonellis for excellent science literacy efforts, and Erika Offerdahl and Audra Baleisis for helping me get my hands dirty with portfolio evaluation.

The ideas in this paper came together during a visit to the Aspen Center for Physics, whose hospitality and convivial work environment are appreciated. My research in education has been supported over the past two decades by several small grants from the University of Arizona and by the National Science Foundation through its Astronomical Sciences and Undergraduate Education divisions, its Distinguished Teaching Scholars award program, and its Informal Science Education and Small Grants for Exploratory Research programs.

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